April 13, 2015

Falstaff on Marriage


FALSTAFF, sitting upon the ground telling sad stories of the deaths of kings
.... some poison'd by their wives.

Enter FOOL.

FOOL: Good Sir John, how fare thee.

FALSTAFF: I fare well but soon must fare thee well.

FOOL: Nay. Take thy shadow off thyself.
Do but drink this bottle down and we shall merry be.

FALSTAFF: Merry? Me? Falstaff shall no more merry be.

FOOL: But thou art known from Land's End to John O'Groats
as the merriest of Harry’s merry band.
And I stand witness from our revels past
that all such tales are true.

FALSTAFF: Oh, fine Fool, if you seek one
who would be merry with you
you seek not old Sir John.

FOOL: Posh and bother, good Sir John,
with these sweet cakes
and this good ale
how can you not merry be?

FALSTAFF: I may not now make merry
because I have made myself marry.

FOOL: Merry? The very stones echo back
your merry laughter from across the years.

FALSTAFF: You hear me amiss.
I am not merry because I married am.

FOOL: Ah. Now I have your measure.
You say you married are?
Well, there's the rub that raises up
the blister on the foot of all men's souls.
How say you of this married state
in which you are not merry?

FALSTAFF: It is much of a muchness
and on it have I meditated mightily
this past fortnight far beyond the chimes of midnight.
Follow me, my Fool, in this:

The unmarried man, being merry,
seeks to marry from merriment in his cups.
For in this muddled state his merry mind
reminds him that to marry may mount
his present merriment in his maid to highest heaven,
and hence his maid,
marking he is merry at the thought of marriage,
moves maidenhead to make him yet
more merry still.
Do you follow my stormy petrel's seaward path, my Fool?

FOOL: Indeed I do e'en though it pricks my feet with shards of ice.

FALSTAFF: I'll dance you deeper still
into those darker seas
where many merry men have drowned:

Upon his marriage the merry man's merriment
doth decline until he can only merry be
when apart from, or in full flight from,
his unmerry married maid and marriage.
Is this not the very unmerry truth?"

FOOL: 'Sooth it is. For all our sages and finer fools
do of marriage make unmerry merry fun."

FALSTAFF: Then follow deeper into my unmerry depths
for hidden waters flow
from questions never made by maids.

If to marry is to be unmerry,
why should then the merry man marry?
Has he not, while merry, laughed that to marry
is to lose all merriment?
How then can he not know in marriage
he places his merriment in ceaseless servitude
not to the maid he married, but to her merry nest
and the ever mounting money pit
the maid's married plan requires
if the maid he married, after marriage,
is to ever be made merry?

FOOL: How can he not, good Sir John,
whose present wisdom would confound the waves,
and send them rolling always teeter never totter?"

FALSTAFF: My meaning I draw out as this:

I find that the merry man wearies of being merry.
He marries then because his merry life
has become burdened by being merry,
and his deeper miseries,
being mushed under his higher merriments,
grow lonely for that company such misery must seek.
I find that this lonely misery
in the midst of merriment
grows more mighty than all such married misery.

In short, good Fool, he wants not a wife
-- as wives are all too seldom spied
in the barren landscapes of our brave new world –
but wishes for a witness to his willful fall
from merry into marriage.
And in this we find that are all our maids
are merrily full willing to comply.

FOOL: But surely, good Sir John,
you slander all our modern maids.
Do they not say, in whispers and in wails,
that only marriage makes them merry?
And if so they say, do they not also wish it true?"

FALSTAFF: No slander sling I at our maids,
but only seek to see them straight,
not touted up with rouged ideas
that in their pates our stunted scribblers doth instill.

I have known many maids
and maids may, as maids,
make merry mock of marriage.
But mark me well, my Fool, once married,
maids are no more maids but wives,
and wives have but one wifely will
which is to make no merriment
in marriage unless they in houses dwell.
Deny them house and no merry love is found
in married maids for they no longer maids remain.

FOOL: So if we then would merry stay,
then marry not we must?

FALSTAFF: You have the nub and core of me proud Fool.
Here begins our brave ascent from Fools' dark depths
to the merry realms of men unmarried.
Mark well this mantled moment when you first knew
that to be merry you must never married be.

'Swounds! The growling hounds of heaven sound the dawn
and I must away to wife unmerry.

Exeunt omnes... followed by a bear.

[Note: Almost a year after I wrote the following a note of thanks arrives from a reader: "It was posted just a week after I learned my wife had been having an affair, and it gave me the first real laugh since the news broke. I bookmarked that post and have referred to it regularly, especially throughout the divorce and custody battle (believe it or not, I won). " What can one say other than, "At American Digest, the pleasure is to serve." ]

Posted by Vanderleun at April 13, 2015 1:02 AM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Four centuries back Will tried to warn me, and I paid no attention.


Posted by: Don Rodrigo at July 24, 2010 3:07 PM

I recommend cats.

Posted by: rickl at July 24, 2010 3:18 PM

Yes; responsibility is a very bill of laden,
Is it not? And the married
formerly merried man
is now much laden with
that he does now laid on with;

And the society - that which he desires
and that from which he is sired -
has many things to say that he must do
or else he is verily screwed
To toil and grin
and bring all labors in
or else - if a dram
or friend he sees
it all be the worst
for he will be damned.

(etc., etc.,)

Posted by: at July 24, 2010 5:13 PM

The above lament's cry
Can be laid at my door, says I.

I 'twas never married; I had seen my brothers
And joining them was against my druthers
But now seein' each on round two
(especially the youngest) I say 'what'd I do?'

It ain't bein' married that your are to escape,
It's knowin' who to 'void enterin' that state.
Find the lass with sense for two
And there is no reason
to avoid 'I do'.

Posted by: Mikey NTH at July 24, 2010 5:20 PM

I once said and it's worth repeating: The definition of shrewd: 'Tis the epitaph of a man who was married to a shrew.
~English is the most AWESOMEST language ever!

Posted by: Jewel at July 24, 2010 6:47 PM

jewel - ain't that the truth!

And Mr. Shakespeare and Mr. Wodehouse were able to make the words...just...dance.

Posted by: Mikey NTH at July 24, 2010 7:45 PM

.... smiles.

Posted by: TmjUtah at July 24, 2010 9:30 PM

I've never seen that passage before. What play was it from? It truly has to be read aloud to appreciate the full brilliance of the words and their placement.

The way it rolls off the tongue is just ... brilliant! How come we never got to see the fun parts of the Bard while I was in school? We only got the boring parts.

(and it reminds me of this song from the Clancy Brothers - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lJsAYO4EB3w 3:31)

Posted by: pdwalker at July 24, 2010 9:31 PM

That passage is found only in the Vanderleun Shakespearian Folio, a new edition.

Posted by: vanderleun at July 24, 2010 10:30 PM


Posted by: reliapundit at July 25, 2010 8:17 AM

doesn't "impending nuptials" sound like a genital abnormality?

Posted by: reliapundit at July 25, 2010 8:18 AM

Yes, that's what I've concluded as well: the man is going madly off to be merrily married! Congrats!

Posted by: Joan of Argghh! at July 25, 2010 9:48 AM

What foil and flap do commence
From tidings ill-founded upon a whimsy;
That married state should hound a man
Unwilling, to shelter unfitting.

What fools compel Shylock
Upon a perilous bargain;
Whilst our Lords snap their jaws vainly
At man alone, content with his crust.

Posted by: raincityjazz at July 25, 2010 1:51 PM

Congratulations, sir!

For what it is worth, Mrs. Utah read my above little tidbit from over my shoulder and after I explained my suspicion she exclaimed "...SMILES??? There is such a thing as too subtle by twice, Mr. Utah, and you are doing it!"

We talk strange here in Utah. And we have a thing for Green Jello. It's all good.

Posted by: TmjUtah at July 25, 2010 6:19 PM

With 35 bucks and quite harried,
The JP pronounced us both married.
To have gone and eloped
Didn't mean we were dopes
But the landlord would not let us tarry.

(true story of our marriage set badly to rhyme)

Posted by: Jewel at July 25, 2010 9:55 PM

I don't remember who said this, "The best thing about getting a new mistress, is getting rid of the old one." Well worth saying again.

Posted by: Jewel at July 24, 2011 2:34 PM

Yep. Marriage sucks. It's no walk in the park for wives either. But it wasn't my idea.

Posted by: RedCarolina at July 24, 2011 4:11 PM

I could use your reader's lawyer. Hell, we all could. Can't say we weren't warned, huh? But love is fucking blind.

Posted by: RedCarolina at July 24, 2011 5:35 PM

All this brings to mind the words of Steely Dan's
"Haitian Divorce".

Posted by: CharlieMac at July 25, 2011 5:19 PM

Well, after all is said and done, what was said or done, Gerard? Gerard?

Posted by: Jewel at December 29, 2012 2:12 PM

Mmm, good.

Posted by: chuck at December 29, 2012 2:29 PM

It only works...to be followed by a bear..

Posted by: Leslie at December 29, 2012 5:04 PM


Makes me wonder how my wife and I have managed to make forty years; and are looking forward to forty more.


Posted by: Dave at December 30, 2012 5:42 AM

35 years next Monday. You would think the Governor would give me a pardon. No such luck. Sigh.

Posted by: Fat Man at April 13, 2015 5:19 AM

My pastor likes to say, "Marriage is like flies on a screen door. The ones one the outside want in, and the ones on the inside want out."

Posted by: Deborah HH at April 13, 2015 7:31 AM

"But mark me well, my Fool - once married,
maids are no more maids but wives."

Yours too?

Posted by: Rob De Witt at April 13, 2015 8:33 AM